SARASOTA, Fla. — Two forces of nature blew into Florida on Sunday, but only one of them was here to receive an award.
Billionaire developer Donald Trump drew a record crowd at the Ritz-Carlton to see him receive the Sarasota County Republican Party's annual "Statesman of the Year" award, even as swift winds and rain from Tropical Storm Isaac bore down on the coastal town.
"Whether you call it statesmanlike or not statesmanlike, I think part of being a statesman is telling the truth," said Mr. Trump at a pre-award press conference. "And I do tell the truth."
With the storm forcing the Republican National Committee to cancel Monday's events, Mr. Trump was the biggest show in town. Nearly 1,000 Republicans attended his awards dinner, which set attendance records for both the hotel and the county Republican Party.
"They've raised a lot of money tonight, and frankly that money is going for a worthy cause and that cause is taking back our country," Mr. Trump said.
Joe Gruters, chairman of the Sarasota County Republican Party, said the celebrity billionaire and host of "The Apprentice" was selected for the honor for his outspoken advocacy of issues that matter to average Americans.
"He's a champion of the people and he's obviously a huge supporter of the comeback team, Gov. Mitt Romney and congressman Paul Ryan, and he's going to do everything it takes to make sure we take our country back," Mr. Gruters said.
Mr. Trump, who weighed a 2012 run for the Republican presidential nomination, praised presumptive selection Mr. Romney as "a great champion." His only advice for national Republican strategists was to stop being "nice" in the face of what he called the "unbelievably negative" campaign being waged by President Obama.
"John McCain chose to be very nice, and unfortunately that didn't work out," Mr. Trump said. "I just think you cannot be politically correct — you have to say it like it is."
Obama campaign leaders "are being vicious and saying things that are horrendous," he said. "I think it's time for the Republicans to stop being so nice."
Not surprisingly, the New York business magnate had no problem with Mr. Romney's recent joke on the campaign trail about the president's birth certificate. Mr. Trump had highlighted the birth certificate issue during his flirtation with running for the nomination.
"There's a huge group of people who are not believers in what he did, what he said, and where he came from," he said. "We'll see what happens. Let's see what happens over the coming weeks and months."
Mr. Trump said he had been scheduled to appear Monday at the Republican National Convention before the storm prompted party officials to cancel the convention's first day of events. He hinted Sunday that he may still play a role if organizers can work out the details.
"I had a big role tomorrow night, but you know what happened," Mr. Trump said. "It was a very big thing. I think they're probably still going to do it, but it's up to them."
At the same time, he said he supported the Republican National Committee decision to scratch Monday's schedule. "I think they did the right thing," he said. "Safety comes first."
Who will win the presidency? Mr. Trump's money is on the Romney ticket: "I really think he's going to be a champion. I think he's going to do fantastically in the debates, he's going to be a champion, he's going to win and he's going to be a great president."
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